Thursday, July 24, 2014

Grief. A Man's Perspective by Jesse Brimhall

       I was asked to write a blog post for Forget-Me-Not from a man's perspective. I guess I should start with some of my credentials. I am a 31 year old father to three children that died before they were born. I am a horrible blogger, having come to the conclusion that whatever I have to say of value is usually intermittent and is usually much to short to warrant a blog of its own. Some of the most profound things I have ever said have been limited to 180 characters, and are lost in a jumble of social media materials that supposedly are now being logged for posterity in the Library of Congress. I guess my profundity is not lost. 

Two and a half years ago, my wife and I began trying to start our family. I guess you could summarize the experience in that it has not gone how we expected. We have lost three children to miscarriage, and we have lost a lot of hope along the way. This is not an easy way to go about life, just in case you weren't aware.

It has been an uphill battle. We have shared excitement with our friends when we have found the illusive blue line, and have shared grief with those that would accept it when we got bad news. The truth is, those who want to share in the grief seem to be smaller in number. Honestly, I think it stems from difficulty in knowing how to share grief. 

I lost my father a few years ago, and a list of things to say and not to say to someone in grief caught my attention. All of the things on the do-not-say list were said to me, and very few encouraging things were said. It was an isolating time for me. Good friends didn't know what to say, so they never wanted tot talk about my loss. Subjects were changed and my grief was ignored, and I became more and more introverted and isolated. 

Eventually, I came out of the depression I felt, but it was definitely a dark time for me. I later met and married my wife, and for some reason, still feel like my feelings about my father's death are mine to bare alone. She did help me a lot with it at the time. She was understanding and supportive, but the feelings sometimes return, and as a man, I feel like they have to be mine to deal with.  Similarly, we seem to have been placed in a position in which our grief of the loss of our children is sometimes not easy to share. 

As a man, it's the pain of grief, of loss of a loved one as well as loss of a potential future, combined with the responsibility of taking care of my wife in her grief. The burden is heavy. Traditionally, it is the responsibility of the husband to be stoic and strong, to carry the burden if the family on his shoulders and to never show any sign of strain or fatigue. His role is to tirelessly lead, love and support his family. It's not easy. It's exhausting. 

A lot of people will tell you that the grieving process gets easier as time passes. A more accurate statement would be that grief is always hard, episodes just become less frequent. There are times that everything is fine for months, and then, instantly, something will set me off. For my wife, these triggers are much more common. Sometimes it comes in the form of seeing a pregnant friend, a cute infant, or even just a small situation in which having our kids nearby would have changed the entire experience.

I am not an expert at the grieving process. If I were to speak candidly, I'm pretty horrible at it. I am, like a lot of men, an emotional pacifist. I am pretty content, if not compelled, to ignore all feelings of grief as long as possible. It's when they resurface that things get messy, but only until I am able to sweep them under an emotional rug again. One of the most inappropriate things that I have ever heard was said to me by a volunteer social worker a couple hours before my dad died. It has been one of those profoundly horrible things that has probably mutilated my ability to grieve in a healthy matter ever since. I tell myself sometimes that it was a mostly innocent comment, but the ramifications have been ongoing for years, and I hear them now as I consider my position in my own family.

"It's a good thing you have those broad shoulders to carry your family through this."

It left me questioning, for years, when it would be ok for me to be carried. 

We named our children, and although we never got to meet them, I imagine their personalities based on those things I have seen in the children of friends of ours. Our oldest, our boy, is a spitfire. He is constantly into things he shouldn't be. He is like me, and is going to light our garage on fire with the welding torch before he has a driver's license. He climbs everything, harasses the dogs, shaves off his eyebrows before his first day of school, and is fiercely protective of his two sisters, who he also talks into snatching snacks out of the pantry for him.

The two little girls, are inseparable, despite having opposite personalities. They are adorable little troublemakers, getting out of all sorts of trouble with innocent smiles and innocent quips. All of the rest of the details are very private and guarded. 

There are days that I get lost in thoughts of them. There are also many more days that I can't. The pressures of work, supporting my wife, and just dealing with everyday life cause my grief to be delayed. They have caused my mind to be overwhelmed, at times, and empty at others. In a recent conversation with my wife, we talked about how I deal with the pain, the loss, and the frustration when she can't. My methods, as misguided as they are, have always been to seek solace in distraction. It's why I enjoy owning cars that require tinkering, I watch cartoons late at night when I should be sleeping, and it is probably why I have made a hobby out of having hobbies. It's one of those things that probably largely hereditary, but helps me connect with my father and my absent son. 

Teaching a grade-school aged son to rebuild a carburetor or change brake pads, or teaching a kindergartner how to slow dance at a father-daughter dance. These are the thoughts I have of my children. They are the happy experiences I wish I would have a chance at, but they are the things that I can think about while I absently fix up the car that would have taken my son and I years to finish, and I would have driven my daughter on her first date in.

        This post is an expansion on the thoughts I had while drawing these sketches last week. Becky bought me an iPad for my birthday, and I had started messing around with a new drawing app, and I realized that I had something to say with it. My hope is to turn them into a small book for her some day. 


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